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anonymous roundtable

This week’s interview is based on a panel of emerging arts practitioners in a round table discussion about their experiences of entering the arts industry. In the arts, there is a preconceived notion that internships only involve stuffing envelopes and coffee runs. This panel serves to break down this stereotype and discuss the value, as well as the positive and negative experiences, and how it can affect your career in the arts industry. Reflecting on past experience they examine ways in which we can provide more support and learning opportunities for emerging art practitioners. To allow openness and honesty in the interview, the participants have remained anonymous.

Interview by Georgina Sandercock

What do you see are the barriers to getting a successful foothold into the arts industry?

Panel Member 1: For me, education has had a huge impact on my career. I feel that in general, the arts management post-graduate degrees available are not providing the necessary practical skill set needed for success in the arts industry. These post-graduate degrees offer a wide variety of theoretical knowledge, but lack the means in which to execute this in a practical setting. Where else can we access valuable resources and networks if not through our education?

Panel Member 2:  In today’s arts climate, almost every person interested in the arts industry attains a relevant post-graduate degree, so each year at least 150 other graduating students with identical resumes will be applying for the same jobs. With these statistics and a lack of practical knowledge, looking for jobs can be daunting and in some cases seem hopeless.

Panel Member 3: I think it is virtually impossible to apply for a job without doing some kind of volunteering or unpaid internships. To other industries it may seem ludicrous to give long periods of our time to a project or organisation for no pay, but in the arts industry it is a necessity that allows you to gain the practical knowledge that we are not receiving through education and develop relationships and networks for the future. Reflecting on my experiences, I would not feel confident going straight into the arts industry without doing an internship. There needs to be more communication that volunteering and internships are essential barriers to overcome in order to gain practical knowledge to successfully enter the arts industry.

How have you found your first jobs or internships? 

Panel Member 1: From my experience as intern, I felt like I was treated as if I had no experience and was a novice to even the most remedial administrative tasks. I was not treated badly, however I felt very underappreciated and undervalued.

Panel Member 2: I actually shocked my organisation with my capability. They said their previous interns were completely incompetent. The organisation had obviously been tainted by this experience. Sadly, the preconceived idea that all interns are treated badly could actually have something to do with the ability of the intern.

If you are lucky enough to be offered a job after your internship, the transition from intern to paid employee is a difficult task. It is hard to balance the previous expectations as an intern with new responsibilities of an employee. You are not expected to do all the remedial tasks that had been assigned to you previously, but in a new role, especially a junior role, there is still an element of lower level tasks you will need to do in order to prove your value and responsibility.

Have your experiences at first jobs, volunteering and internships been valuable?

Panel Member 1: I think you can draw from both negative and positive experiences in first jobs and internships. I always felt valued at my internship which motivated me to work harder and I was fine with that. I think feeling valued really affects the experience you can have as an intern. Alternatively, I see the great value of actually doing an internship. It is essentially free learning and you gain a practical skill set that you can utilise for future roles. I have also developed an understanding of internal politics, which often plays an integral role in the arts industry.

Panel Member 3: Definitely. Without my internship I would not have gotten a job in the arts. I agree whether you have a good or bad experience, both can be beneficial to your future in the arts industry. My internship allowed me to experience a variety of different roles in an organisation and from this I could determine what really interested me and if I could actually do the job.

What could be done better to provide learning and support for new arts practitioners?

Panel Member 1: Communication and more opportunities for networking within and outside of university appear to be the areas that could vastly improve learning and support.  We have come to realise there is virtually no funding, such as grants and scholarships specifically for emerging arts practitioners. How can we fully invest our time in volunteer projects and internships when we can only afford to give one day a week due to other financial commitments?

Panel Member 2: Often you have to search high and low for career advice during and after university as there is nothing to support the transition between university and the arts industry. We need more information and advice and perhaps an organisation solely dedicated to emerging arts practitioners. Many of us have found ourselves lacking direction when faced with the next step in our career and it only dawned on me after the fact the effect my internship experience has had on my career.

Where else can you get information on learning in the arts:


There are many tales of internal politics in the arts. Most of us at arts interview have experienced, or have at least heard, of a person, project or organisation that has been derailed by internal, ongoing, unresolved political conflict. So, we have asked someone with a long-term commitment to the arts to share a little of their personal experience, the personal and professional impact of internal politics. To allow our interviewee to be really honest we are keeping their identity a secret.

Anonymous interviewed by Eliza Muldoon

What examples of overtly political workplace behaviour have you witnessed in the arts organisations?

One is management being funny or awkward about talented, hard-working colleagues. In some people they identify it and totally support it, in others they denigrate it, make that person’s life difficult and do not support or nurture that person’s career, they may even go so far as to virtually block their career. This may just be their subjective (‘objective’) opinion of that person’s talent in that workplace, but it may also be a reflection of the boss’ own personal and professional anxieties and fears.

In your experience what kinds of politics are Australian arts organisations particularly susceptible to?

If you consider money a political issue (it is hard not to), then I think Australian arts organisations in particular are susceptible to the idea of ‘not-for-profit’ salary mentalities, whether they are not-for-profit or not. Having come from a not-for-profit background I certainly seem to maintain the mentality that I should work hard, long hours for ‘free’. I now realise that senior management are probably not being paid that ‘arts salary’ – though I can never be sure, I do not really know. I actually do not know what a decent ‘art salary’ is in the not-for-profit sector, but I am aware that an arts administration salary is nonetheless greater than what many artists receive.

I am now challenging myself to ask for more money when previously I never would have, and figure that they can just say no if they cannot afford it. I hate finding out that other people – sometimes more junior than me, were being paid more simply because they demanded it. I find that very demoralising, but at the same time I get annoyed with them for being so demanding.

What is an example of an extreme issue that you have seen in an arts organisation?

In small arts organisations an all-too-common example is yelling and bullying. In some of the examples I have seen, it is because the organisation exists to fulfill the director’s vision and that same director calls all the shots, sometimes aggressively. There is no human resources coordinator or department to keep them in check. There are some people in such organisations that can stand up to these people, and I admire them for that. I wish I could do it, but it is not in my nature. Sometimes I challenge myself to speak up to defend myself or state that I feel wronged, in the same way I try to challenge myself to ask for a greater salary. But I think standing up for myself in the workplace is not something I will ever be able to do. It makes me really uncomfortable and I absolutely abhor confrontation. I guess that is a lot of the personality crossing over into the professional, I guess you do ‘take yourself’ with you to work!

What have been your own responses to workplace politics? How has it impacted you personally and professionally? 

Unfortunately my personal response to workplace politics is to get upset, feel oppressed, anxious and powerless. I put in a lot of effort and I am committed to my jobs/career and when I feel that I am being unfairly targeted and even bullied I take it very personally. Despite people saying ‘do not take it personally’, it is hard not to. I have also felt physical effects such as stomach in knots, fast heart rate, no appetite etc. Generally such experiences have left me feeling a bit ‘clouded’ unable to see or think clearly.

During the really difficult times I have found that it impacted my personal life to the point of shaping my character and the kind of person I am to be around. At those times my conversations were always on a ‘downer’, always recounting work scenarios where I felt bullied or powerless.

The professional impact is that it makes me doubt my ability and myself. I find that I become nervous or apprehensive about doing things that I have previously felt confident about, particularly when I know other people can see or hear me. One simple example is that during those times when I do most of my correspondence by email and if I do make a phone call, I will wait until the bosses and others are out as this way I am much more confident.

Now – with some hindsight and perspective – I basically see the management and interpersonal relationships of any workplace as an issue of personal preferences. People will, as much as possible, choose who they wish to work with, who they will be nice to and who they will tolerate.

Interested in managing personal politics, more information here: